Finlay Wild has set a new speed record for the Cuillin Main Ridge Traverse, shaving about 2.5 minutes from the previous fastest time, despite misty and damp conditions on the day.
On Sunday 16 June, Finlay set an impressive time of 3:14:58 - coming in just under Es Tresidder's 2007 record of 3:17:28. The times for speed attempts are measured from Gars-bheinn to Sgurr nan Gillean , the southernmost to the northernmost summit on the ridge, and the 'rules' include doing all the main climbing pitches on the Traverse.
Amazingly, Finlay ran a time of 3:10:30 the week previously - but in an impressive show of discipline decided it didn't count because he'd failed to touch the summit cairn of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, despite passing 10 metres from it.
For his successful attempt Finlay had no support on the ridge, which meant soloing all the graded pitches. He downclimbed the spots that are usually abseiled.
'Awesome and humbling!' - Es Tresidder
Fort William - based Finlay, 28, is a newly qualified GP but still finds time to run with Lochaber Athletic Club. He's won the Ben Nevis Race for the past three years, and got the Glamaig Hill Race record last year (44m27). He's also run with a GBR vest in the Dolomites.
Finlay has a solid climbing background too - experience that's arguably essential to any runner on the ridge.
'Everyone is different but for myself I feel a solid grounding in all aspects of climbing and mountaineering are key' he told us. 'Then some racing on rough terrain like Ben Nevis or Glen Rosa Horseshoe. Its all about moving fast in the mountains - which is what I enjoy!'
'To start with I wondered about getting running shoes re-soled with climbing rubber, but actually I found that well worn-in Walshes were perfect. One traverse last year (5.5hrs - weather got rubbish and a bit of snow in the air) I carried 30m of 6mm cord as I hadn't downclimbed the TD gap part before, but I didn't use it. Since then I've not taken any climbing gear - but yes I do have a lot of climbing experience behind that.'
Finlay's split times:
Sgurr nan Eag 0.15.50
Sgurr Dubh Mor 0.33.40
Sgurr Alasdair 0.55.26
Sgurr Thearlaich 0.58.29
Sgurr Mhic Choinnich 1.07.00
Inaccessible Pinnacle / Sgurr Dearg 1.24.08
Sgurr na Banachdich 1.40.26
Sgurr a' Ghreadaidh 2.00.06
Sgurr a' Mhadaidh 2.07.47
Bidein Druim nan Ramh (Central Peak) 2.28.50
Bruach na Frithe 2.55.50
Am Basteir 3.04.34
Sgurr nan Gillean 3.14.58
He first did a Cuillin traverse about 10 years ago, and has since spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the range in all weathers.
'I would say I know the main traverse route very well now' Finlay reckons.
'Over the past year and a half it has been a project and a dream to go faster on it and so I have had loads of great days out reccying various sections... One of the most memorable times was the day after I broke the Glamaig record and, still buzzing, headed up to Bealach Coire na Banachdich through the mist. It had been raining heavily overnight and everywhere there were bright cables of white torrents flowing down from the dark rock, glimpsed through the mist - that felt very special.'
'You're so focussed on the route and what your hands and feet are doing that you don't have time to think about being tired'
On Sunday conditions were far from ideal too, with mist and damp rock to hinder his progress.
'I've spent a lot of time up there in the wet and mist so felt confident of my route finding - especially having had such a good look at it all just a week previously' he said.
'I thought about bailing at the top of the TD downclimb as it felt a bit 'grubby' (for want of a better expression!), but I know it well so just took my time. Later on, from Bidein there are quite a lot of slabby parts where the margin for error was narrower in the wet and definitely slowed me up a bit.'
'I knew I had the strength for it having done it a week before, so it was the weather that played on my mind really. But during the run you're so focussed on the route and what your hands and feet are doing that you don't really have time to think about being tired. By the time you get to Naismith's there's this fantastic feeling of flow and reaching over for the good hold just feels instinctive!'
'It was really good to have my own splits to try and keep to. Although I fell behind them I knew I was in with a good shout by the time I got to Bidein.'
What advice would he offer to anyone hoping to do a traverse?
'Anyone who does it onsight in a day must've had a brilliant day out' he said.
'A friend has done it onsight in 7hrs which is fantastic. The 'classic' two day traverse means you get plenty of time to take it all in too. Every time you go up you learn new wee bits and it all adds up to make time savings. Lots of days spent reccying the start, middle and end sections, as well as other great routes like Pinnacle Ridge, which isn't part of the main traverse. Andy Hyslop's guide is also really helpful as a starting point.'
We asked previous record holder Es Tresidder what he thought of the news:
'First of all a massive congratulations to Fin' he said.
'The Cuillin record is a nice one to hold because it requires so much work to break it.'
'It's so intricate that even the best runner/climber in the world couldn't just turn up and break it onsight. So you sit there as record-holder knowing that in order to break your record someone will have to put a lot of effort in, and that in doing so they too will have some amazing experiences that you can re-live vicariously.'
'I've really enjoyed watching Fin's progress towards the record, wondering if he would break it and how much by. My ego was relieved yesterday when I saw he'd only broken it by a modest margin (2.5 minutes), but this morning I see the record should perhaps stand nearly 5 minutes faster again! Awesome and humbling!'
There's more from Es about this in a recent blog post here.
So how much faster could times for the route get in future?
'Sub-three hours would be great, wouldn't it!' says Finlay. We think he's joking. 'Definitely a bit closer to that, anyway.'
But it's not all about speed records, he says:
'The great thing is that there's such a lot of the Cuillin still to explore - I only recently did the Clach Glas - Bla Bheinn traverse, and have barely done any roped climbing on Skye at all.'
Here's Finlay's account of his record breaking run:
This was my third traverse in three weeks – a week ago (9/6/13) I ran a time of 3h10m30s in perfect weather only to realise I had inexplicably omitted to touch the summit cairn of Sgurr Mhic Choinnich, despite passing 10 metres from it! This dawned on me slowly and horribly while walking down from the ridge, so later that day I made the tired journey back from Glen Brittle to Sgurr Mhic Choinnich to consider what had happened – unfortunately this confirmed I had made a 5 second important omission. The next week was lived in a sort of limbo of checking weather forecasts and mental preparation for the next run.
So it was that I returned on Saturday night for an optimist's weather window Sunday morning. Myself and Suzy hid from the midges and rain showers at Glen Brittle campsite, then headed as far as Sgurr nan Eag well into the night as the skies cleared. I hoped the ridge would dry out nicely overnight, and in the morning a beautiful cloud inversion below us boded well. I left Gars-bheinn at 5am, expecting the cloud to lift and the temperature to shoot up. The weather didn't improve but as I was making good time I kept going. As it turned out, the majority of the traverse was done in misty and slightly damp conditions. Due to such a lot of recent time on the ridge the route finding went very well, except for an error descending Sgurr na Banachdich.
I gradually dropped behind my own split times from a week ago, and at Bidein was 4 minutes behind. The whole traverse certainly felt more serious than in the previous bone dry conditions, but it was still going well so I pushed on over the next more runnable section and by Bruach na Frithe was just behind Es Tresidder's 2007 split. I knew it would be close so shoved some more jelly babies in and continued onwards to Naismith's and arrived delighted at the summit of Sgurr nan Gillean in 3h14m58s, as the sun decided to briefly show face.
After descending back to Glen Brittle I had a relaxing time on the beach and a fantastic meal at Sligachan – by now the cloud had cleared a bit and I spent a lot of time looking up at the Cuillin, repeatedly.
Thanks to Rob Beaumont, Peter Herd and Alli Pettigrew for carrying my bivvy stuff down from Gars-bheinn a week ago, and to Suzy Devey for being the beast of burden this time - and having her own adventures in the mist! Also Roger Wild with whom I did my first traverse 10 years ago, and lots of reccy'ing since. Es Tresidder has been helpful with discussion and info – very sporting given that I was chasing his record.
Follow what Finlay gets up to on his blog.